Its vision: to put a full stop to the suffering, discrimination and stigma of those challenged with mental illness, and their loved ones.
I am honoured and pleased to welcome today's guest blogger, Zoe A. Onah, from this caring and hard-working organisation , who explains that mental illness can be a lonely and cruel world. Over to you, Zoe.
by Zoe A. Onah, Defying Mental Illness
I want you to think of a picture I am going to paint for you. And I am not being stereotypical or remotely hurtful here so bear with me. I want to make a point…perhaps a strong one.
Imagine a picture of a young lady. She is fat, no, let's say she is grossly overweight. She can’t even be bothered about giving her unruly hair the good combing that it deserves, let alone invest in a good cut. Scruffy is the word that quickly comes to the mind of most people when they see her.
She is funny though. Has a brain like a computer. And concealed under the layers of double chins and double everything one can see the sketches of a very pretty lady. And for the icing…
She has challenges with a mental disorder.
Now, how many of us would say that’s the friend I have been looking for all my life? That’s the friend I want to hang out with on a Sunday afternoon?
I don’t think I’ll pause for an answer.
Yes, appearance counts; no one is saying not to put an Ariel tablet in the washing machine. Or to forget that there is a liquid hair soap called shampoo. However the world is not perfect. There are people around who have not quite worked out what a mirror is for. And the fact that they are challenged with mental illness does not help either, as this may even be a contributory factor. Nevertheless, does that disqualify one from having or keeping friends?
Mental illness is a lonely cruel world. The stark truth is that being regarded as mad can often put you in the’ no friend zone. And pre-existing friends rush for the nearest exit faster than they would in a house on fire.
If your new attractive neighbour come knocking on your door with a ‘Hi I am Jane. I am the new girl new door… and by the way I would appreciate if you kept an eye out for me now and again as I am diagnosed with schizophrenia’, would you suddenly buy extra locks? Or let the word get around through the neighbourhood gazette, aka, your mouth?
Or even think there is no better time to move than now, having just concluded that your posh neighbourhood has suddenly begun to lose its value?
And yes, would the neighbour’s attractiveness dissolve quicker than an Andrew’s Liver salt tablet? (Wow, I don’t believe I am ranting like this… I don’t usually throw such tantrums!). But how else can I expose the thinking of us' the ‘sane’ masses?
I had a friend who was/is challenged with mental illness. I will never forget my friend’s father heartily and tearfully thanking me one day for remaining a friend in spite of the ugliness of the disease I saw and witnessed. All other friends were somehow missing in action when things got a little rough, but should that be so? I am not advocating I am the perfect friend but I think I can say I was a good friend in this case. And I am not going to ask if we would behave the same had it been a physical disease, because we have heard that question 1 million times already!
But is there not an old saying that says a friend in need is a friend indeed? Yet, the way we carry on, one would think the saying carried a disclaimer. For friends challenged with mental illness, friends not needed however!
And then when rumours has it that perhaps our best friend has been admitted in the mental hospital, does that mark a turning point in a new redefinition of the friendship? Does best friend get a downgrade to a good acquaintance? Yes, it is not easy paying a visit to a mental hospital…however… well, you get my point!
Knowing that you have a friend that can love you no matter what, that can make an effort to at least offer some help or even say kind words, is like offering water to a thisty man in a desert. Stigma makes it difficult for people to open up about their challenges with mental illness. In fact, the first time some people find out about their friend’s condition is when things have got bad like a hospital admission or even a suicide attempt.
No one is saying such friendships are easy. Mental illness can look scary. Mental illness is often seen as the difficult war terrain, and to some extent rightly so. We all know the basics of first aid with physical ailments having learnt them even in primary school. However we are hard press to know what to do in a mental health emergency, which for some means one thing only… calling the police.
Maintaining a friendship with someone challenged with mental illness requires work and lots of patience. But if we are to reduce stigma and really show that we care, we can all make an effort. We need to educate ourselves further on how we can be of help to our friends when they are in distress or ill.
And for our large lady at the beginning. Ok, her unkempt appearance does not make it conducive to want to hang out with her but given she is funny and intelligent, and she is a human being besides. If we all ignore her and she ends up with no friends, what hope does she have of making something better of herself.
Often a little encouragement is all it can take. And who knows? That encouragement may be the first step in the road of recovery. So why not give that forgotten ‘nutter’ friend a call today? And make sure you don’t think they are nutters either!